Tag Archives: women

mama bear

I arrived home this evening to find a letter from the principal at my daughters’ school.  It opened by informing me that Sabrina (my 5th-grader) had been missing a lot of school recently, proceeded to explain that her absences would henceforth require a doctor’s note, and closed with a threat to file a petition in county court against myself and my ex-husband if Sabrina missed any more school.

Really?

Bring it on, sister.

Sabrina was born 5 1/2 weeks prematurely, before her lungs were fully formed.  Do you know what happens to humans when their lungs don’t fully form?  They have trouble breathing, and their immune systems are compromised because our lungs provide that necessary oxygen stuff that keeps us healthy… and… well, alive.   She spent the first three years of her life sick almost non-stop and I hauled her from doctor to doctor trying to find out what what wrong with my baby.  I fought with doctor after doctor who tried to tell me that she “just had a cold.”  We finally got a diagnosis — an unusual form of asthma known as “cough-variant asthma.”  Most likely not life-threatening in her case, but complications resulting from it could be.  And it was definitely compromising her ability to fight off even the smallest cold.  Thank goodness we live an hour from the best respiratory hospital in the country; we were so relieved when we finally got the diagnosis.  Now, we thought, she’ll finally be okay.

Boy, were we wrong.

Turns out the diagnosis was the easy part.  Developing an effective treatment plan proved to be much harder.

I can’t even remember how many specialists I saw, how many tests she was subjected to, how many alternative approaches we tried to no avail.  Sabrina and I met with doctors up and down the Front Range of Colorado, from Denver to Fort Collins, looking for solutions.  From October until May each year, she was sick on average of 5-7 days a month.  She did so many courses of steroids, the doctors warned us she could suffer stunted growth because of them.  On too many nights, I bundled her up and raced off the ER, to sit by her bed while they hooked her up to machines and pumped her body full of medicines, while she looked terrified and I choked back tears.

Her poor little body couldn’t fight off anything; every cold, every virus left her incredibly sick.  Almost every child gets the rotavirus at some point or other; Sabrina got it and landed in the hospital for three days, hooked up to all variety of monitors and IVs.  The worst was an illness that no one was able to identify.  Our hospital stay that time was four days, and the senior national expert on communicable diseases was brought in examine her after specialist after specialist and test after test brought us no closer to an answer.  SARS?  No.  H1N1?  Nope.   Cystic Fibrosis.  Thank God, no.  The virus — whatever it was — eventually went away, but not before it ravaged her small body.

When she was 3 1/2, I quit a job I loved, in part because I was missing so much work due to her illnesses.  Bryce and I decided that it was time to finally figure out her health.  I began keeping a binder of everything I could find out about her kind of asthma and what each of the doctors had said.  Gradually, I formed a team of doctors around Sabrina and coordinated her care in a manner that finally began to show some outcomes.

We were lucky in some regards.  She had wonderful doctors devoted to her.  Sabrina is the kind of child that hugs everyone, including the doctors who had just poked and prodded and hurt her.  I remember one evening, when she was in the hospital with the mysterious virus, her fever raging and her body expelling liquids almost faster than the machines could pump them into her.  It was 3:00AM and I was awake, worried about her, checking her breathing and sponging her fiery body.  I went out into the hallway to fight back the tears and discovered her primary care doctor, off-duty, pouring through Sabrina’s chart with a stack of medical journals and references spread out around her, desperately searching for something the experts had missed.  I suppose I should have been more frightened, seeing her like that, but I was so touched by her dedication that I actually felt better.  How could Sabrina not get well when so many people were working so hard for her?

It has been a long, long road.  Every year the doctors  adjust her medications, and we now combine traditional Western medicines with Eastern herbal remedies, acupuncture, and chiropractic adjustments to manage her illness.  By the time she was eight-years-old, Sabrina had had two surgeries;  each offered some relief but she still struggles.  Slowly — very, very slowly — her incidents have lessened in frequency, but not intensity.  Her doctors have speculated that she will likely outgrow her asthma eventually, and that is our greatest hope.  But every time I think we’ve made progress down that road, we have a month like this February, and I wonder if we have lost all the ground we gained….

When people first meet Sabrina, they usually assume that we must be exaggerating her health problems.  Contrary to the doctors’ early concerns, she is tall for her age — about 5’1″ at 11-years-old — all legs and arms and long chestnut hair and pink cheeks with a smattering of freckles.  But once someone has seen one of her attacks, or seen her when she is sick during one of those periods, they realize what she is fighting.  Her asthma attacks are not like the regular wheezing attacks.  They start slowly, with a dry cough and escalate over a period of hours.  When they are in full force, they can be very frightening to someone who has never seen one.  The first time my mom witnessed one, she became nearly hysterical and I had to make her leave the room.   Sabrina’s preschool teachers overcame their initial shock and became experts at trying to calm her down and help her with her medicines.  Indeed, throughout her school career, she has been blessed with caring and compassionate teachers who worked with us to keep her in school and learning whenever possible.  All the educators and administrators that we’ve had the pleasure to work with have collaborated with us and shown Sabrina incredible kindness.

Until now.

Tomorrow morning,  Bryce and I will go into the principal’s office.  I am taking Sabrina’s medical binder, with the names of the nine specialists involved in care written in Sharpie on the front.  I will ask the principal which doctor she would like a note from.  I will show her the peak flow meter — the device that alerts us to when Sabrina cannot breathe.  I will tell her how nice it would have been to have received a call from the school asking us if Sabrina was okay, rather than a letter implying that we are poor parents because we are “in violation of district attendance policy.”  I will explain to her that the next time she threatens me with a lawsuit over my daughter’s care, she had better do her research.  Because if there is one thing in this world that I am sure of, it is that I have been a good mother to Sabrina.  I have cried more tears over her and worried more over her and held her hand through more scary times than that principal can even imagine.

But she’ll find out.  Tomorrow morning, she’ll find out.

Wish her luck.  Because I won’t need it.

Blogger’s Note:  It took 9 minutes the following morning to go from a rebuff from the principal (“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to make an appointment.”  “Sure.  That’s fine.  Which of the 9 doctors on her medical care team would you like to attend that appointment?”), to an apology, to a commitment to work with us to develop a district medical plan for her on-going care.   After we left, Bryce told me I’d handled it well and that he was glad it was her I was angry with and not him.  😀

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Filed under parenthood

worst. sex. ever.

I don’t usually kiss and tell.  Well, actually, I do kiss and tell, but I don’t usually have sex and tell.  Unless it’s bad.  And then I spill the beans.

A friend reminded me recently of the story of my worst sex ever.  It’s  a story that he remembers because… well… everyone who’s heard it remembers it.

First, let me be clear that a guy has to be an over-achiever to claim the title of worst sex I’ve ever had.  I’ve had a lot of sex.  Some of it was worthy of whatever the Oscar for porn is, and some of it was just plain bad.

Before my marriage, my award for worst sex ever belonged to a really nice guy with a really small penis.  Now, I’m honestly curious what kind of karmic debt he’d incurred to force him to go through this life with such a remarkably small penis, but it was truly so small that I didn’t even realize when intercourse had actually begun.  This dubious distinction won him the cruel nickname of “Phantom Dick” from one of my girl friends.  (And, I’m not a size snob; in fact, I am biologically constructed in such a way that a guy has to be pretty darn tiny to not satisfy my size criteria….) But, anyway, Phantom Dick was so nice and smart and sweet that I was relieved when our relationship fell apart for other reasons, so I wouldn’t have to suffer the guilt of breaking up with a guy simply because nature had played a mean joke on him.

Twenty years later I realized that there are far worse things than phantom dicks.

The lover who currently holds my worst sex ever title we’ll call John, because… well, because that’s his name.  I dated John not too long after my separation.  By the time John and I took our clothes off, he had had a crush on me for several months and had been angling for just such an opportunity.  So, the sexual tension was high and the anticipation was thick.

The foreplay wasn’t awful.  It was, however, what I like to call “Checklist Foreplay.”  (Every woman over the age of 30 is nodding her head right now and going “Ohhh…. bummer.”)  Checklist Foreplay, for you young women and male readers, is when a guy seems to move through the motions simply because he knows he’s supposed to.  It goes something like this:

  1. Kiss mouth.  Check.
  2. Kiss neck.  Check.
  3. Fondle breasts.  Check.
  4. Kiss breasts. Check.
  5. etc, etc.  You get the idea, right?

Here’s a good rule, guys:  If you don’t enjoy doing something, don’t do it.  Sure, we’d probably rather that you did, but doing it without any enthusiasm is worse than not doing it at all.  I don’t do things in bed that I don’t like to do.  (Okay, in fairness, I’m not sure what those things might be, but if I find one, I swear I’m not going to do it.)

John tried to be sweet, paying me compliments.  Some hit the mark — “You have the body of a 25-year-old!” — while others did not — “Nice boobies!”  Ahem.  Another good rule of thumb, guys:  When in bed with a woman, don’t ever, ever refer to her body part by a name that her sexually-repressed grandmother might have used.  Go for a porn-worthy reference, or stick with the clinical term.  But don’t call our parts by cutesy names.  It’s not sexy.  It’s just icky.  If you doubt me on this, imagine how you’d feel if we said to you, “You’ve got a great pee-pee.”  Seriously.  Just don’t do it.

After the toe-curling pleasure of our 5-minute foreplay (not), it was off to the races.  I felt certain that things would improve once we really got rolling.  After all, this was a good-looking guy whom I knew to have no trouble seducing women and more than enough notches in his bedpost to suggest the development of serious artistry in the sex department.  So maybe foreplay wasn’t his thing.  It was bound to get better, right?

Umm.  No.

Because there are hardly words for what happened next.  Basically, he moved his car into the space, and threw it into park. And there it sat, idling.

At first, I was confused.  I looked at his face.  His eyes were closed and he had the look of someone thinking hard about something.  Okay, I thought, maybe I just need to do some of the work here.  But that wasn’t even possible — he was nearly 6 feet tall and about 190 lbs.  I could barely move my arms, let alone my hips.  Not that it really mattered, because, as I was contemplating how to manipulate my body, he sighed and pulled out of the parking place.  Job completed.

Then he smiled at me and said lots of sweet things and I got the hell out of there as fast as I could.

On the drive home, I was not only sexually frustrated but absolutely flabbergasted.   I mulled over any and all explanations for what had just happened.  Perhaps he was drunk and having to struggle to keep the car running?  Or maybe he was just so overwhelmed at the opportunity to have sex with me that the engine got too revved up too quickly? (I liked this explanation, personally.)  Or maybe this was some Kama Sutra thing that I’d have appreciated if I’d ever been disciplined enough to read the book instead of only look at the pictures?

Well, because I am a glutton for punishment very nice person, I gave John a second chance and confirmed that, whatever the reason, this was his personal style of sex.  To his credit, the second time lasted slightly longer; long enough, in fact, for me to remember that I’d forgotten to take the chicken out of the freezer for the next night’s dinner.  Now, I’ve had sex that literally made me dizzy and nearly pass out, so if you’ve got me thinking about frozen chicken while you’re supposedly making love to me, our relationship is not long for this world.

So, before we go on, let’s review for our male audience what we’ve learned:

  1. No Checklist Foreplay.  Unless the checklist consists of “Ravish her body passionately,” it’s just uncool and a buzzkill.
  2. No cutesy names for our female parts.  Not unless you want us to turn you on with references to your “pee-pee” and your “bum-bum.”
  3. Friction — actually, movement generally  — is a necessary element for intercourse.   Whatever you do, don’t park the car before taking it around the block a few times, please.

As it turned out, there were ample reasons that John and I did not belong together that are far more important than his claim as my worst sex ever.  But he still holds the title.

And, if there is a God in heaven, he always will.

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Filed under dating, relationships, sex

a visit to my former life

Tonight I attended a fundraising dinner at my daughters’ school.  It is an event I have gone to every single year since Sabrina was in kindergarten and I was a stay-at-home mom, small business owner, and PTA member.

I remember how big and intimidating the school seemed that first year — so different from the daycare/preschool from which Sabrina had come and Bryn still attended.  The hallways seemed so wide and long, the furniture so large, the staff so foreign and unknown.  But when Sabrina started there, I threw myself into the Supermom role.  I volunteered in the classroom, I baked for the bake sales, I helped start the Brownie troop, I donated my business services to the silent auction.  The school became a home-away-from-home very quickly.  I’d breeze through the front door, waving at the office staff, on my way to one appointment or another.

I came to know the other moms (and some dads) really well.  We’d stand on the playground at the beginning and end of school and exchange news about our children or idle gossip about the school.   We arranged playdates and sleepovers and afterschool activities.  We compared notes about teachers and troublemakers and summer camps.  I felt a part of that community.  Known.  Appreciated.

When Bryn started kindergarten two years later, my marriage was coming apart at a rapid clip.  Little did I know when I kissed her off to her first day in that now-familiar room with that now-familiar teacher that life was about to change dramatically.  By the end of the school year, my husband and I were separated, and my place in that little community had shifted perceptibly.

I moved out of our family home in March of that year and so never really got to know the parents of Bryn’s school mates quite as well as Sabrina’s.  I worked part-time while Bryn was in first grade, so I was still there at drop-off and pick-up, waiting patiently with the other moms, but there was no more time for classroom volunteering or the PTA.   But it was a mixed blessing… not knowing the parents of Bryn’s classmates also meant that they didn’t have much emotional stake in my marital situation.  They didn’t know me or my family well enough to be shocked or upset by our divorce, so they received me, my ex, and the news of our divorce with more equanimity than the parents of Sabrina’s friends.  In fact, I think my divorce brought me closer to some of those women than I would have been otherwise.

But, perhaps not surprisingly, it is still some of the mothers of Sabrina’s classmates to which I gravitate at these school functions.  The ones who knew me before, supported me during, and accepted me after my divorce; these are the women who feel like old friends.  In truth, we probably hardly know each other, and yet there is something rich in watching your children grow up together, something bonding in moving through those early parenting years side by side. And I, of course, remember every small kindness paid and friendship given during the darkest times of my divorce.

Next year, Sabrina and her classmates will splinter off to multiple middle schools.  The easy familiarity of these school functions will be no longer as strange faces replace the well-known ones.  Some families I will likely never see again, which is an odd and discomforting thought.  This school, and these families, provided the context for the largest upheaval in my life to date.  For better or for worse, the drama of my divorce played out against the backdrop of the community built around this elementary school.   It was in those hallways that I was comforted by near strangers and dismissed by some I’d thought were friends.  It was those teachers and staff who sheltered and supported my children as they struggled to grasp their new reality.  It was that principal who called to check in with me every few months for the first year.

As I sat there tonight and wondered — for the sixth year — why the spaghetti was so bland and tasteless, I felt as if I were already a visitor to the school, rather than a current member of its community.  So much has changed since I was a PTA mom.  I looked around the room and remembered my old life.  I can’t say that I’d want to go back, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t miss parts of it, too.  So I savored those moments tonight, in easy conversation with the women who’ve watched me move through the wretched transitions of the last 3 years.  We shared memories of days past and fears of days to come and there was a bittersweet quality to all of it.   Or maybe that was just me.

When Sabrina goes to middle school next year, I’ll meet new parents, and they will only ever know me as Sabrina’s divorced mom.  Our seemingly-perfect intact family and the divorce that blew us apart will fade from collective memory.  Life will keep moving and changing and surprising us all.  And someday, probably very soon, the memories of those spaghetti dinners will be distant, treasured snippets of childhoods gone too soon, and a former life nearly forgotten.

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Filed under general musings, parenthood, single mom

sucker punch

I took my labelmaker (yes, I’m the kind of mom who has a labelmaker) to work this morning so that our receptionist could label some things around the office.  But after only one label, it ran out of ribbon (yes, it was that kind of morning).

Arriving home late in evening after helping a work friend with an errand he needed to run, I headed to my craft box and began pawing through it, looking for the extra label ribbon that I knew was in there (yes, I’m the kind of mom who has extra label ribbon).   I couldn’t find it, so I took the box to the dining room table and dumped the contents across its surface.   Then, poking through the markers and paints and glues (aha!  I knew I had extra label ribbon!), my hand froze on a tube of paint, I felt the air sucked out of my lungs, and the memory washed over me….

It was Christmas Eve and I stood in front of James’s hearth, fingering the Christmas stockings hanging from the mantle.  Five identical stockings, plain and  unadorned.  I looked across the room at James and pointed to the stockings.  He crossed the room and explained that his ex-wife had taken all the stockings when she’d left.  “Well,” I said, “When Christmas is over, you need to let me take these and decorate them, personalize them.  This looks sad.  I’ll fix them up!”  He shrugged.  “Okay, sure.”

And so, in the days immediately after Christmas, still on a happiness high from my amazing holiday weekend, I went out and bought tubes of paints in Christmas colors, plus puffy white paint to mimic snow, and silver glittery paint to make them festive.  I found an old t-shirt and spread it on the dining room table and starting practicing all the letters in their names, drawing snow flakes and holly leaves, ornaments and gifts.  I was determined to make those stockings perfect.  When the kids arrived at their dad’s next Christmas, they’d find pretty stockings, decorated with love.

But I never decorated those stockings.  By the end of that week, my relationship with James was blown apart, all my hopes for shared holidays to come, dashed.

I don’t remember cleaning up the paints or the practice t-shirt.   I must have done it when I was still numb with pain.  I had forgotten about all those colorful tubes, about my silly plans, about my offer to James to help make things special for his children.

Until tonight.

It’s so unfair how life can sucker punch you.  There you are, moving along pretty much okay, trying to just put everything behind you, letting go of what you never really had, and WOOMPH!, a sucker punch from left field ushers in all the grief and loss all over again.

I wish that I had decorated those stockings.  I wish that those children had some tangible token of my love.  They would likely never realize, or probably care, who had decorated them or why, but I would know.  I would know that each Christmas, a little tiny piece of me would be there, loving on them still.

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Filed under healing, love, parenthood, relationships, sadness, single mom

call me crazy

Go ahead.  Call me crazy.  It’s likely you won’t be the only one….

I spent last evening — Valentine’s Day — with Mr. Airplane.  And it was — much as I expected — perfect.  Absolutely perfect.

I’d never been to his home before but he wanted to cook for me.  When I arrived, he busied himself opening a bottle of my favorite wine, while I wandered through his home, admiring it.  He has a truly beautiful home, full of dark woods, rich textiles, and beautiful art.  Everything was tasteful and well-appointed, impressive for a divorced man who’d moved in with nearly nothing.  Over our wine, he presented me with a beautiful blooming pink cyclamen and a sweet but funny Valentine.  Then, after a toast, it was on to dinner:  seared tuna sashimi with sticky rice, homemade spring rolls, and garnishes of avocado and strawberries, along with an Asian-inspired side salad with orange sesame dressing.  And if the food hadn’t won me over, the presentation would have:

Now, I don’t know about you, but my cooking never looks like this, special occasion or not.  Once again, I have managed to find a man whose culinary skills far outpace my own.  But that’s okay, I’m supposed to be learning to let someone take care of me and be nice to me, right?

But I digress….

After a candlelit dinner and some nice conversation, we cleaned up the dishes together and then settled in front of the fire to watch a surprisingly endearing romantic comedy, share some more wine, and snuggle.  When the movie ended, it was getting late, but he walked me to his grand piano and played for me.  He is a classically-trained pianist who plays entirely by ear and improvisation.  I sat in awe as his fingers moved deftly over the keys, easing from them songs of his own composition, classical favorites, and contemporary pop songs that we sung along to.  With me yawning and still getting over my vicious cold, we decided to call it a night.  He walked me to my car, gave me a sweet kiss, and made me promise to text him when I got home safely.

Yes, it was perfect.  Absolutely perfect.

Let’s sum up, shall we?  Here is a man who is smart, successful, funny, friendly, confident, accomplished, emotionally-healthy, artistic, generous, attentive, kind, affectionate, and a good father.  He wants to bring me chicken soup when I’m sick, shovel my driveway when it snows, and fly me to another state for dinner sometime just because he can.   He’s tall and broad-shouldered and nice looking. And he likes me.  He really, really likes me.

So, sometime very soon, I need to figure out how to break up with him.

Because for all these wonderful things that he is, there is one wonderful thing he is not:  right for me.  Something is missing.  Some intangible nuance, some chemical attraction, some soul connection is not there.  It’s as if the universe created the perfect checklist of a man for me and forgot to include the heart connection.  I kiss him, and I feel nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.  He touches me and, rather than press into him, I shift ever so slightly away.  When I hear from him, I am glad, but when I don’t, I don’t really notice.  I admire and respect and like him.  Under different circumstances, we could likely be great friends.  But right now, my heart and soul and body are not interested in anything more.  My brain would love to convince them otherwise, but they aren’t having it.  They’ve been fooled before and have some divorce papers to show for it.

So, because he really, really likes me, I have to break up with him.  He is a good man. A really good man.  He deserves a woman who tingles when he touches her and gets butterflies at the sound of his voice.  A woman who can’t wait to get his next text and share the rich and full life he has to offer.  He doesn’t deserve to fall in love with someone who will never truly love him back.  I’ve done that to men before and it was wrong.  And I’ve been in his shoes and it sucks even worse.

And so I have to break up with him.

Sigh.

Go ahead.  Call me crazy.  It’s likely you won’t be the only one….

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Filed under dating, internet dating, love, relationships, single mom

the mother figure

I got home late from work, tossed the mail on the counter and was still taking off my coat as I grabbed the phone to pick up the messages indicated by the blinking red light.

When I heard the voice, I stopped.  Moving.  Breathing.  Thinking.

It was the sweet little voice of James’ 9-year-old daughter, Chelsea, calling from her mother’s home, across the country.  “Hi Miss _____,” she said softly.  “Or Bryn or Sabrina or whoever picks up this message.  It’s Chelsea, and I miss you so much.  I was just talking to my daddy and decided to call you and tell you how much I can’t wait to see you over Spring Break and the summer.  I wish I was in Colorado with you.  Call me back sometime soon.  I miss you.  Bye.”

By the time the voicemail clicked onto the next message, I was sitting on the floor of my foyer, coat half-on/half-off, with damp cheeks.  How I love those children of his…

Dating with kids is a dicey prospect at best.  In previous posts,  I have written about how much it hurt me to say goodbye to his children, and how upset my daughter Bryn was when I told her that James and I had broken up.  They are innocent passengers on our dating journeys, buffeted by the ups and downs of relationships they can’t begin to understand.

Just a short time ago, I was worrying about his three children as if they were my own.  Their mother is pretty chaotic and unstable, and unfortunately more interested in partying and drinking than in them.   The children don’t trust her or feel safe with her, and their reports of  physical and verbal abuse between her and her fiance had James racing to his attorney to evaluate his legal options.   They are smart, good kids caught in a difficult and sad situation.

My time with James’ children meant a lot to me, but I realize now that it was good for them, too.  In fact, I was probably one of the best things to happen to those kids in a long time.  Unlike their own mother, I know how to love completely and without conditions or manipulation.  Even when they pushed me away, I was steady and committed to them.  I cared for and about them without asking for anything in return.  I listened to them and supported them and showered them with affection.  And I offered a role model to the two little girls that they didn’t have anywhere else in their life.

And now I have to let them go.

James always said that the kids came first.  If that’s true, then the best thing he can do for those children is to create a safe, stable family for them.  I hope that he goes out and finds a good woman he can truly love who will love them and nurture them.  I hope that someday he models for them a healthy romantic relationship so that they will have some idea of what one looks like.  I hope that those precious girls have a woman in their life to guide them to their fullest potential, because they have so very much.  I hope that his son will have a mother figure who helps him understand that not all women will make him feel inadequate and helpless.

Is it too much to hope for?  Maybe.  But it’s all I can do now.

So, I picked myself up off the floor, shrugged off my coat, and sent a quick text to Chelsea letting her know that Bryn would call her over the weekend.   Then I said a silent prayer for all of them — that they be happy, healthy, and protected.

It’s all I can do.

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Filed under dating, love, parenthood, relationships, sadness, single mom

was it worth it? (pt. 3)

Every once in a while, the universe delivers a message so powerful, so unambiguous, so affirming that it sends me spinning.  I got one of those loud-and-clear messages yesterday.

One of my first posts on this blog contemplated the question of whether my divorce was worth it.  Worth all the pain, all the disappointment, all the breaking down and rebuilding of the lives of the people I cared most about in the world.  Would I someday look back and know that I’d done what was truly best for all of us?

Last evening, I stopped at my ex-husband’s house on my way home from work to pick up some Girl Scout cookies I needed to deliver.  After hugs and kisses from my girls, I was just about to leave, when Sabrina told me that Bryce and his girlfriend, Debbie, had broken up after more than two years together.  I’m a caretaker, I can’t help it, so I headed to the kitchen, where I found Bryce opening the mail.  I asked him if he was okay and told him I was so sorry to hear about he and Debbie.  He offered the same condolences over my break-up with James, and the next thing I knew, we were engaged in a conversation that could only be described as surreal.

There we stood, in the kitchen I had designed and he had paid for when Sabrina was only a toddler, discussing the ends of our first loves after divorcing each other.  The children played in the living room as we traded, in broad brush strokes, the details of our break-ups.

I hesitated at first.  So used to his criticism, I braced myself for the possibility that he would insinuate that I was somehow to blame for James’ limitations.  But he didn’t.  He nodded sympathetically and agreed that I needed decent boundaries, and that I was teaching our girls the right thing by demonstrating those.  I told him how surprised I was at his relationship’s end; I had really thought that he and Debbie had staying power. He paused and then looked me in the eye and said, “You might be the only person that can actually appreciate this… but it was like dating me, the me before our divorce.  She was just like I used to be.  I could see it.  I could understand it.  But I couldn’t live with it.  I pulled the plug after two years.  I don’t know how you lasted 12.”

I didn’t know what to say.  I had liked Debbie, for sure, but I also know very well that it is impossible to know what people are like in a relationship until you are there with them, every single day.  And I also found myself feeling oddly loyal and protective of Bryce.  He is, after all, my daughters’ father.  I had his back, unequivocally, for more than a dozen years.  Funny how those old habits resurface.

More than anything, I was astounded at the ease and matter-of-fact delivery of his admission.  Where was the man who had almost never admitted he was wrong about anything?  Where was the man who had made me feel broken and crazy for even suggesting that he was flawed in any meaningful way?  Who was this self-effacing, authentic person in front of me, being vulnerable to his ex-wife??

In that moment, I was so proud of him.  I have known him long enough and well enough to know how much emotional work it must have taken him to get to such a place with me.  I know that he must have applied himself to his personal growth with the same intense focus he applies to his legal practice.  He is not perfect, but he is trying harder than I’ve ever seen him, and I can’t help but respect that.

I thanked him for sharing with me.  I told him I was proud of him for the strides in self-awareness he’d made since we divorced.  Then we laughed at our mutual inability to model even one really good, really healthy intimate relationship for our daughters.  But we agreed to keep trying.  I told him I was counting on him, and he laughed and warned me not to hold my breath.

Then I gathered my cookies, kissed my daughters, and departed my former home, knowing, again, that it was indeed worth it.

Absolutely worth it.

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Filed under divorce, friendships, healing, marriage, personal growth, relationships, single mom

for Lisa….

This morning I was introduced to a woman whose eyes took me back three years in time.  This post is dedicated to her and all the other “Lisas”….

“Lisa” and I met awkwardly and unexpectedly, in a waiting room, through a mutual friend.  Our friend wanted me to meet Lisa because she is struggling through the end of her marriage, and our friend thought my blog might help her.  I reached out my hand in hello and Lisa took it, but when she turned her eyes to me, my heart broke.

The tears were about to spill over, when she asked me, in a soft voice, “It does get better, right?”

Oh boy.

I remember those days.  I remember the fear and the helplessness.  The near desperation and the loneliness.  I knew no one my own age who was divorcing or had been divorced.  I felt like I was alone in a sea of people making different choices from me.  I didn’t have anyone to point to and say “THERE!  That’s what I want to have!  That’s what I’m aiming for, too!”  I remember saying to Annie, before she had left her marriage, “I need to see a divorced woman who has made it to the other side.  I need to see someone who is happy and content and past all of this.  I need to see it and I need to see it NOW because I am afraid that it doesn’t actually exist.”

When your marriage is falling apart — whether because you are leaving or he is — you’re awash in doubts and regrets and uncertainties.  It seems that every time you find something you feel certain about, another wave of doubt washes over you and you’re floating in ambivalence again.  The pain of the broken dreams and smashed hopes is palpable; it’s true:  depression hurts.  And the whole time, you’re grasping for a lifesaver that you can ride to the other side.

What has amazed me (and my friends who came through it after me) is how similar the process is for most of us.  No matter the reasons for the marriage’s failure, or the proportion of guilt assigned, the process of moving through those feelings and struggles is very, very similar.  True, some people stall at one point or another, and some are more extreme in the expression of their feelings at particular places along the way, but, overall, the journey is very similar.

And thank God for that.

Because, Lisa, there are lots and lots of us who have been where you are.  Who have had the same fears and sadness you are facing.  Who have had to pick up the pieces of lives blown apart and start anew.  Small steps…. little victories… until we begin to create a life that is whole and good and hopeful again.

In fact, hope might be the defining feature of these new lives.  Not the feigned or desperate or false hopes you’ve experienced time and again as your marriage has unraveled, but the true, buoyant hope of possibilities grounded in the certainty of your own strength and knowledge of your own needs and desires.  I have had my heart broken twice since my divorce, but it was an entirely different kind of pain.  It’s not the pain of being stuck or of being hopeless.  It’s the pain of being alive.  And that distinction is real and true and makes all the difference.

Moving through a divorce is not easy, and anyone who claims it was for them is either lying or delusional.  Building a new life is never easy, and when you’re weighed down by the guilt and fear and doubts that you carry out of a broken marriage, it’s doubly hard.  But nothing truly worth having has ever come easily.  Nothing.  And when you reach the other side and realize that, somewhere along the way, you have put the guilt aside, overcome the fear, and cast off the doubts, you’ll find yourself standing in the middle of a life you hardly recognize but can claim as your own.

I remember reading the book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” to my daughters when they were small.  It’s the whimsical, lyrical tale of a family that sets off on an imaginary bear hunt (only to, quite comically, encounter a real bear).  The part of the book that I loved, and stressed to my girls, was the refrain the family chanted every time they hit an obstacle  — “Can’t go over it.  Can’t go under it.  Guess we’ll have to go through it!”  And so the family does.

Divorce is like a bear hunt.  There is no easy way around it or over it or under it.  You’ve just got to square your shoulders, straighten your back, set your focus, and go through it.   That’s the only way to the other side.  Sitting in your misery and expecting it will change of its own accord won’t do it.  Neither will hoping that someday you’ll have the strength.  There’s never a “good time” to get a divorce.  It’s never going to hurt less.  It will suck.

But then, one day, it won’t.

One of the first men I dated after my separation told me about his divorce recovery from his first wife.  He spoke about how he had simply put one foot in front of another for what seemed an eternity but was probably about 6 months.  He told me how he’d begun to wonder if he’d ever be happy again….  And then, one day, he was running errands on an ordinary Saturday, and he went into the bank to make a deposit.  He came out and the sun was shining. He stopped for a moment and let its warmth touch his face, and as he did, it hit him.  He was okay again.  In fact, he was kind of happy again.  He said he stood in the bank parking lot and cried silent tears of gratitude.  He had made it.  He had made it to the other side.  Life was beginning again.

I think most of us have similar moments we could relate.  They are precious and they are sacred, and, if I could, I would box them up and deliver them to you, Lisa, to carry you through the days ahead.  But since I can’t, you’ll just have to have faith that yours are awaiting you.

One small step after another.  It’s the only way any of us got here.  It’s how you’ll get here, too.

And someday, you’ll feel the sun on your face and the hope in your heart.  Again.

P.S. — There is an email button on this website.  Feel free to use it.  🙂

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Filed under divorce, healing, marriage, relationships, sadness, single mom

the simplicity of first impressions

Saturday night at Annie’s New Year’s Eve party, I spent quite a bit of time conversing with a man I’ll call “Francisco.”  The following afternoon, Annie received an email from him that included a request for my contact information along with the following compliments, “I enjoyed talking with your friend, [insert my name here].  🙂 She’s bright, insightful, attractive, sensitive, and a caring mom.”

I was flattered by his kindness, but I am in no way in a position to offer him anything other than friendship.  And so friendship it is.

But after reading Francisco’s email to Annie, what struck me most was this:  right now, at this moment in time, I am precisely those five adjectives to Francisco.  Probably no more and no less.  In the realm of first impressions, his picture of me is comprised of that information alone.  Since our meeting, he may have subconsciously filled in some other details — perhaps he assumes that I like the same foods he does, or listen to the same music, or share the same political views.  Maybe he imagines me to be charitable or a dog-lover.  Or perhaps his brain has done none of those things and he is simply aware that he liked my smile.  Regardless, he knows basically nothing of me yet.  His complete experience of me was of a very pleasant conversation in a comfortable atmosphere.

So how long would it take for him to really know me?  How long before he discovered that I am kinda complicated?  How long before he realized that dating me is not for amateurs?  How long before those first impressions gave way to less favorable, more nuanced ideas?

First impressions are delicious in their simplicity. They tend to be single-dimensional and as much a reflection of the recipient’s frame of mind as of the giver’s actual nature.  I think, quite often, when we are predisposed to like someone, we come away with a positive impression of them.  It’s far less common, I think, to find ourselves drawn to someone we hadn’t expected to like.   For instance, I think Francisco came to Annie’s party with gentle and sincere aspirations of meeting someone special, and so, upon meeting me, was predisposed to find me all of things he has attributed to me.  There is certainly nothing wrong with that; in fact, it’s rather sweet.  But it’s also not necessarily real.

First impressions for me have always been kind of dicey.  Women either love me or hate me, almost on sight.  With men, I tend to make a strong and positive first impression, but not one  — I have come to realize — that is entirely accurate.  I assure you that I don’t actively seek to mislead anyone or conceal anything about myself…. it’s more that I think those parts of me that you meet first tend to be my best parts.  (I think that is true for many people, but certainly not all.  I have had friends who were notorious for making poor first impressions, including one male friend who was never successful with women — despite being handsome — until they got to know him.)

James never shared much about his first impression of me beyond saying that I “intrigued” him, but other men have and their impressions have been fairly consistent.  And often quite far off the mark.  They imagine me to be easy-going in relationships (ahem, not really) and so confident that I have no apparent insecurities whatsoever (!?!).  I’ve been consistently told that I come across as sublimely open and trusting (umm, guarded and naive is more like it) and that I seem to have an easy time developing intimacy with people (seriously, where do they get this shit?? This is true on some level, but certainly not as a rule).  All of these impressions are very nice and kindly-intended, but they are simply wrong.  And they set me up for a tumble off the pedestal that inevitably occurs if I actually open my heart to them at all.

The men who have weathered my pedestal tumble and still staked out a place in my life are die-hards.  They are the kind of men who are able to smile at my failings and love me through my neuroses. Maybe one of these days, I will fall in love with a die-hard who will consider the effort to be with me worth it, and the lasting impression more valuable than the initial one.

A girl can hope, can’t she?

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Filed under dating, love, relationships, single mom

meet the modern American family

I have been spending an inordinate amount of time lately with my ex-husband, Bryce.  No, we’re not grabbing beers together after work or hitting the tennis court for a doubles match.  We’re attending informational meetings, open houses, and promotional tours for local middle schools in the hopes of selecting the best fit for my elder daughter, Sabrina.  It is a choice we will make jointly.

Now, for those of you who are not from this area and are already scratching your head, our school district is somewhat unique in that you can “open enroll” your child in any school in the district.  You are guaranteed a place in your local, neighborhood school, but if you’d like to enroll in a different school, you may do so through the open enrollment system.  Essentially, with open enrollment, you toss your child’s name into a lottery system for that school, which determines their acceptance or not.   So, there is a lot of school shopping in my town.  Sabrina is a very bright kid with some special needs  at the talented and gifted end of the spectrum so we’re visiting four different schools, all of them more than once, to make this decision with her.

And tonight, quite unexpectedly, I found myself facing one of those surreal divorce moments that always seem to sneak up on me….

I was sitting in an auditorium, with Sabrina on one side and Bryce on the other, when one of the elementary school moms I’d once been friends with walked in.  Our eyes met briefly, then I saw them sweep and take in Bryce and Sabrina, and finally determinedly look elsewhere.  I couldn’t help but grin.

For this was one of a handful of women who stopped speaking to me altogether when word hit the grapevine that I was leaving Bryce.  She didn’t know Bryce — I’m pretty sure they’d never spoken before — but she was instantly judgmental and appalled at my gall.   She and her friends haughtily and publicly insisted that I was making a big mistake and would regret it in short order.

Except that I wasn’t and I haven’t.

And frankly, I’m not sure which aspect of my present life confounds and annoys them more…

  • Is it that I didn’t crumple under the weight of guilt and regret and become a frumpy and pathetic divorcee?
  • Is it that I have made a life — however modest and humble — of which I am proud and with which I am content?
  • Is it that my standing within our community has not been altered or affected in any appreciable way?
  • Is it that Bryce and I have (at least on the surface) a very congenial and mutually-supportive friendship?
  • Is it that we have both found happiness with others and have accepted those other partners?
  • Or is it that they were so damn wrong and can’t figure out how or why???

I know that after the divorce, I was supposed to slink around town looking guilt-ridden and glum, but I didn’t feel that way and wasn’t about to play that role for anyone’s benefit.  I know that my relationship with Bryce — the fact that we sit with each other at soccer games and school functions and community events — is surprising and confusing to those who don’t know us and our commitment to our daughters.  I know that my sincere acceptance and welcome of his girlfriend Debbie makes some people just plain uncomfortable.

But you know what?

They need to just get over it.

Because it’s actually pretty simple:  Bryce is not a terrible person; he just wasn’t the right partner for me, nor me for him.  Debbie is a very nice, sweet, friendly woman whom I have absolutely no reason to dislike.  We are all doing our mutual best to support and raise my daughters.  For the life of me, I will never understand what is wrong with this picture.

I had a phone conversation this week with a guy friend I’ve known for 27 years, during which he told me that he thinks it’s “unnatural” for Bryce and Debbie and me to attend the girls’ events together.  Now it was my turn to be confused.  “Unnatural”??  Seriously?  What exactly are we “supposed” to do — take turns loving them?  Maybe I should only love them on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that Bryce and Debbie can also get their days?  Or perhaps we should do the time-honored thing and shove them in the middle of some acrimony so that they can get the more traditional divorce experience?

So here we are now, reviewing and considering schools, discussing pros and cons for Sabrina and trying to make the best choices possible for her, and I am reminded — once again — that even in our attempts to do what is best by our girls, we are somehow different.

I have made my peace with different.  I am proud of where we are now and what it’s taken us to get here.  I am glad that my children are not embarrassed by our behavior, nor do they feel torn between us.  There will be arguments and hurt feelings and maybe even legal battles down the road, but we are establishing a good, strong precedent for working together for the sake of our children. We are integrating new partners and trying to support each other in our new lives.  We are the embodiment of the modern American family, for better or for worse.

And we’re not going anywhere.

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Filed under dating, divorce, marriage, parenthood, sadness